Voters in Northwest Baltimore's sprawling 5th District — home to Pimlico Race Course and some of the city's poorest and wealthiest residents — will elect a new City Council representative April 26 for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Seven Democrats are competing to replace retiring Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector in the primary. No Republicans or third party candidates filed for the seat.
Shelley Sehnert, president of the North Roland Park Association, said the district needs someone who is ready to bear the responsibilities that go along with representing 40,000 residents who come from many different backgrounds.
"It's absolutely vital that the person knows the entire district and takes the time to really understand the people who live, work and play here," said Sehnert, adding that the group does not endorse candidates.
Competing for the seat are Christopher Ervin, Betsy Gardner, Derrick Lennon, Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer, Kinji Pierre Scott and Sharif J. Small.
The district serves as a gateway into the city from Baltimore County along its north and west borders and includes both traditionally African-American and Jewish communities in neighborhoods such as Glen and Cheswolde. Reisterstown Road Plaza and Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital are area anchors.
Spector, 79, praised the district's "wonderful diversity," stable neighborhoods and strong businesses. She is backing Gardner, a Northwest community liaison for the City Council president's office. If Gardner had not agreed to run, Spector said, she would have sought another term. Spector has served since 1977.
"She knows how the agencies work, how local government works," Spector said of Gardner. "She's been a partner with all of the community associations in my district. She gets to hit the ground running."
Gardner, 49, of Cheswolde said her "true calling" is to advocate on behalf of city residents. She has worked under three administrations and has relationships in city agencies "from the top on down." She also served for 14 years as the citywide Jewish community liaison, and said she has relationships with longtime council members.
"I am the only candidate running with the experience to get things done," said Gardner, a West Virginia native who has lived in Baltimore for 25 years.
Ervin, 47, of Howard Park is a former Marine who has worked in various segments of the waste industry. He said he wants to create opportunities for ex-offenders, improve access to the arts in schools and promote the creation of low-tech, labor-intensive jobs.
"We need to change the dynamics in Baltimore," said Ervin, a New York City native who moved to Baltimore about 20 years ago. He said he's met members of the city's delegation to the General Assembly and will use those relationships to help develop solutions for Baltimore.
Lennon, 49, of Glen said he wants to make streets safe, give children access to quality education, support seniors and address the city's "crumbling infrastructure." Lennon, who bought the house he grew up in, works as a supervisor for a commuter bus service.
He is a member of the Democratic State Central Committee and former president of his neighborhood association. He also served on panels examining police and community relations, the city's tax rate and school construction.
"We have to do things differently," said Lennon, who ran against Spector in the 2011 primary, garnering 665 votes to her 3,435. "I am working to recreate that village that we once had as a community."
Martinez, 35, of North Roland Park said that by working as an assistant city solicitor she learned the ins and outs of how local government works. She said her work as a lacrosse coach and mentor to girls, as well as her upbringing in the city, gives her the insight needed to serve the community. She previously worked for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's congressional leadership staff.
As a member of the City Council, she would work to increase police foot patrols, stop sewage backups and see that the Jones Falls Trail extension is completed.
"I believe in a City Council that leads the city forward," said Martinez, adding that she offers "professionally qualified, forward-looking, progressive" leadership.
Schleifer, 26, of Cheswolde said as an entrepreneur he understands the need for better jobs and lower property taxes. He said he successfully worked with his neighborhood association to push the city to hire more crime lab technicians to respond faster to crime scenes.
He is a member of the city's Democratic State Central Committee and has worked as a neighborhood liaison for the state's attorney's office.
"For far too long, the perception was that you had to know somebody inside City Hall to get something done," Schleifer said. "Everybody should have equal access. I am someone who knows how to put systems in place to make sure everybody has access to the resources they need."
Scott, 46, of Woodmere said he wants to combat the number of vacant houses and open-air drug markets in the 5th District and help substance abusers get treatment. He said he will draw on his background as a community liaison for the state's attorney's office, former middle school teacher and social activist.
Before voting on or introducing any legislation, Scott said, he would hold community meetings and poll residents about their positions on various issues that would go before the council.
"I put in the work," he said. "I don't just talk about doing the work."
Small, 37, of Howard Park said he is committed to rebuilding neighborhoods, providing resources to youth and seniors and supporting small businesses. Small said he wants to open more recreation centers, provide more substance abuse treatment and offer financial literacy classes.
He owns a small business that offers tax accounting, bookkeeping and other services. He also said he founded a nonprofit to give financial planning services to seniors, entrepreneurs and veterans.
"My focus is saving our youth, strengthening our families and protecting our seniors," Small said. "My background has been improving social economics and addressing the poverty that's affecting our city."
March campaign filings show Schleifer had the most cash on hand with a balance of $42,585. Gardner had $33,741. Martinez had $6,842. Small reported $6,319. Lennon had $2,914 and Ervin had $753.
Scott showed no records on file.
The North Roland Park Association will host a forum for 5th District candidates at 7:30 p.m. April 11 at the First Christian Church, 5802 Roland Ave.